Prayer of the Heart

2562  Where does prayer come from?
Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays.
But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times).
According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays.
If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.

2563  The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place "to which I withdraw."
The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others;
only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully.
The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives.
It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death.
It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation:
it is the place of covenant.

Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992)

"A very old definition of prayer described it as "the raising of the heart and mind to God." What is the ‘mind’; what is the ‘heart’ ? The mind is what thinks - it questions, plans, worries, fantasizes. The heart is what knows - it loves. The mind is the organ of knowledge, the heart, the organ of love. Mental consciousness must eventually give way and open up to the fuller way of knowing which is heart consciousness. Love is complete knowledge.

Most of our training in prayer, however, is limited to the mind. We were taught as children to say our prayers, to ask God for what others or we need. But this is only half of the mystery of prayer.

The other half is the prayer of the heart where we are not thinking of God or talking to him or asking for anything. We are simply being with God who is in us in the Holy Spirit whom Jesus has given us. The Holy Spirit is the love, the relationship of love that flows between Father and Son. It is this Spirit Jesus has breathed into every human heart. Meditation, then, is the prayer of the heart uniting us with the human consciousness of Jesus in the Spirit. ‘We do not even know how to pray but the Spirit himself prays within us‘ (Rom 8:26)"

Laurence Freeman OSB, Christian Meditation. Your Daily Practice

"Contemplative prayer is total openness to and oneness with the prayer of Jesus. Contemplation is being silent, still and simple. And the heart of the prayer of Jesus is his communion of love with the Father, his turning his attention to the Father, in the Holy Spirit.

Christian prayer, therefore, means entering the life of the Holy Trinity in, through and with the human mind and heart of  Jesus".

Laurence Freeman OSB, Christian Meditation. Your Daily Practice

"Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source".

Thomas Merton OCSO, Seeds of Contemplation

"The way of meditation is essentially simple. There are no special theories, complicated techniques, no preconditioned dogma that you have to hold or subscribe to. It is essentially simple because it is experiential. The essence of meditation is the discipline of saying your word. It is entering into a faith-filled silence of mind and body where we leave words and thoughts behind".

Laurence Freeman OSB, A Short Span of Days

Prayer of the heart is not a technique or even a certain stage in the total process of growth in prayer. The hesychastic Fathers constantly describe it as forcing the mind down into the heart. It is basically an affective attitude that seeks to transcend the limitation of human words and mental images to reach an inner ‘still point’ where God and man meet in silent self-surrender.

St. Theophan, the Russian recluse, describes this attitude:

‘Prayer is turning the mind and thoughts towards God. To pray means to stand before God with the mind, mentally to gaze unswervingly at him, to converse with him in reverent fear and hope … The principal thing is to stand with the mind in the heart before God and to go on standing before him unceasingly day and night, until the end of life… Behave as you wish, so long as you learn to stand before God with the mind in the heart, for in this lies the essence of the matter’ [St. Theophan the Reclus, cited in The Art of Prayer, compiled by Igumen Chariton and trans. by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer (London: 1966), p. 17.]

In such deep, interior prayer, we hunger to possess more consciously the living presence of the risen Lord Jesus. We seek a ‘circumcision of the heart’, such as the prophet Jeremiah preached to the Israelites: ‘Circumcise yourselves for Yahweh; off with the foreskin of your hearts’ (Jer 4:4). It is into the ‘heart’, our deepest level of consciousness of ourselves as free and loving persons, that we must go in order to experience intimately and profoundly God’s great love for us. It is in the heart that we find the ‘inner closet’ that Jesus spoke of (Mt 6:6) and where we adore our Father in silence and in truth.

It is there also that we, in courage and in humility, look at the dark shadows of our nature. We encounter face to face the demonic forces form all of our past experiences that lie repressed under the masks, fancy speeches, and spiritual poses that we formerly considered essential to our prayer” (George Maloney SJ, Prayer of the Heart. The Contemplative Tradition of the Christian East, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Indiana 2008, p. 65-66)

“The Fathers stressed the hesychasm of ascetical practices designed to develop hesychia or tranquility, both exterior and interior. This meant emphasizing flight form the society of other men and women, and silent of lips and heart by reducing all cares to only the absolute essentials one, the evangelical occupation of seeking the kingdom of God. This interior struggle to live only for God [‘guarding of the heart’] was carried on by a constant vigilance or sobriety over one’s thoughts. When, through inner attention, the mind or heart attained hesychia or rest from passionate thoughts, it was able to contemplate God unceasingly.

To this praxis the teaching of Evagrius on contemplation or theoria is added. Thus the mind, the mirror of God, now purified, is able to contemplate unceasingly the Trinity through its own divinization through grace. Man’s spirit becomes a temple of God and apatheia, the state of integration without the passions being a burden or impediment to prayer, brings about continual prayer or contemplation of God.

(…) Man is no longer as Evagrius described him, an ‘intellect’, but man now is a heart. He encounters God totally in an I-Thou loving relationship, not through images. Even corporeal visions are to be discredited and the presence of God is to be guarded  in a heart by penthos (abiding sorrow for one’s sins), which is developed by the continual thought of death and judgment, the gift of tears and complete detachment form all creatures. Yet a new element is  found in the Sinaite form of hesychasm, and that is the personal, warm devotion to Jesus which is brought about by a simple ejaculation or merely the name of Jesus, repeated indefinitely as the form of centering in the consciousness (the heart) upon the transforming presence of the healing Jesus”     (G. Maloney, p. 25)

“The most famous of all the Sinaite Fathers is undoubtedly St. John Climacus (so called because he wrote the slassic: The Ladder (in Greek klimax) of Paradise. We find much of Evagrius’ spirituality in his writing. Posterirty would take from John Climacus his remembrance of God’s presence by the use of a short phrase repeated often, usually connected with the name of salvific function of Jesus, and always stressing the cry for mercy and forgiveness. One of his famous texts reads:

‘Let the thought of death keep you company when you go to sleep and when you wake up, and with it he one-word prayer of Jesus (monologistos Jesou euche). For nothing can come to you in sleep which is able to prevail over such protection’ [John Climacus, Scala Paradisis; Gradus XV, PG 88, 889 D]

At this time of development of hesychasm, there was not yet the fixed formulation ot the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. According to I. Hausherr, Climacus advocated what the earlier desert fathers had taught in stressing the ‘hidden work’ (in Greek krypte ergasia). This meant the main work of the fathers was to recall the memory of God or the presence of God at all waking times through the utterance, vocally or mentally, of a short phrase. This is brought out in Climacus’ statement defining hesychia:

‘Hesychia is continual adoration of the ever-present God. Le the memory of Jesus be united to your breath  and then you will know the benefit of hesychia … the downfall of a hesychast is interrupting prayer’ [John Climacus, Scala Paradisis, PG 88, 1112 C]

One final text that would have great influence in linking hesychasm with the repetition of the name of Jesus is Climacus statement, ‘Whip your enemies with the name of Jesus, for there is no weapon more powerful in heaven or on earth’ [John Climacus, Scala Paradisis; Gradus XXI, PG 88, 1032 C]. Here Climacus uses the name of Jesus in the Semitic sense of presence. Later generations of hesychasts, reading these texts of Climacus, would be led literally to use name of Jesus as a Christian ‘mantra’ in order to thwart the attacks of the demons and call down the mercy of the Lord ” (G. Maloney, p. 25-26)